I Believe in Santa Claus w/ RiffTrax Audio
Another cheap, batshit RiffTrax holiday special in the vein of Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and The Magic Christmas Tree, here we've got some kind of mashup of Oliver Twist, Wizard of Oz, and a K. Gordon Murray Santa's Toyshop feature, with some African rebels thrown in for good measure.
Look, should I stop writing quickies for RiffTrax features unless there's something special about them like Super Mario Bros or The Wizard? Do you really need me to tell you "It's a terrible movie you've never heard of, but the jokes are funny" every time I do one of these? It's MST3K/RiffTrax, you already know that.
While this is the sequel to The Neverhood, I played it first many years ago. What did coming back to it with The Neverhood under my belt change?
Well, it changed how I looked at Skullmonkeys. When I first played it, it felt like a puzzle that, while forming a complete picture, was all tabs and blanks on one side; who was Klogg and what was his deal with the Neverhood? But since all the stuff with Hoborg and the other deities is missing from Skullmonkeys it's like the full puzzle consisted of two distinct images, that then snapped together in the middle. Still nice to have all the pieces there, I guess.
See, Skullmonkeys isn't so much a sequel to The Neverhood as it is an Earthworm Jim game with Neverhood wallpaper; this becomes obvious around the time you get an item that forms a shield made of spinning hamsters around Klaymen. And if you remember Earthworm Jim, you probably remember it as a competent platformer that could have been great if it hadn't let its dream of being a cartoon gum up the actual game. Skullmonkeys follows in its footsteps with wonky ground collision, a habit of blocking your view with shit in the foreground, and the occasional bullshit gimmick level. However, Skullmonkeys relies on platforming over combat, which when combined with the imprecise controls and camera results in many curses and a final level that will probably cost you more lives than the entire rest of the game.
But the wacky, energetic Idznak comes off as jarring after the subdued, nearly lifeless Neverhood; while The Neverhood was about an overthrown god and a possible Christ allegory, Skullmonkeys has a boss fight against a monkey with a black guy's head for a torso (which in retrospect could be seen as rather tasteless), and lets you blow up all on-screen enemies with a powerup called the "Universe Enema". To go back to the puzzle analogy, imagine half the picture was a Nativity scene, while the other half was a screencap from that "Potty Emergency" episode of Animaniacs.
I don't know what I thought of the ending when I first beat the game all those years ago, though it probably pissed me off. But looking at it now it feels like there was a plan to have a seven-game series of Klaymen's adventures through the tertiary deities' worlds; The Neverhood was Hoborg's world, and Skullmonkeys is Arven's. You might be wondering how that'd be possible if Ottoborg's world fell apart, but if The Neverhood was a point-and-click and this was a platformer - plus that Japan-only air-gun tennis game - why not a space shooter through the debris of his world?
But if nothing else, Skullmonkeys has a much better soundtrack than its predecessor.
Let's get the pettiness out of the way; I know this was made for television, but I don't remember the Color of Magic special looking this much like ass. The special effects are laughably bad and some indoor scenes look like the stage lights were being projected through jars of piss. I've seen MST3K features with higher production values.
Anyway, as a made-for-TV adaptation of the Hogfather novel, somebody was given the unenviable task of cutting a 300-page novel down to three hours. And somebody thought the best way to adapt this to film was to give away the mystery of the Hogfather's disappearance and Death taking up the mantle at the very start of the film. This isn't the story tipping its hand, it's the story throwing the cards on the table then going out back for a smoke. It also wastes time essentially telling the ending twice, time it really needed.
The dialogue is a textbook case of keeping the notes but ditching the music, and some performances are really phoned in; I kept waiting for Susan's actor to fall asleep on screen.
Another problem with the shortened runtime is Teatime is far more prominent in it. Yeah, the guy I described as the most irritating Discworld villain, but at least had the decency to get lost for 2/3 of the book? He's also even more grating here because I didn't imagine him in the book acting like a disturbed child, and not just a manipulative adult.
Also, both here and in the book the first we see of the wizards is them opening up a bathroom that was made by an incompetent plumber, then sealed up for unknown reasons. While that subplot got closure in the book when we find out why it was sealed up in the first place, here it's... totally forgotten about when Part 2 rolls around.
Unidentified Funny Objects Vol. 3 (Alex Shvartsman, Kindle eBook)
Yeah, I'm not sure I'm going to continue this series. The first volume had some great stories. The second volume didn't have anything that blew me away but was still okay. This one screams "diminishing returns".
The story that stuck with me the most from the first volume was the cautionary tale about the physicist who self-destructed trying to "beat" another woman she percieved as the source of all her problems (a story a certain duo of "game developing" brothers would have done well to read before trying to sue 101 people, if words penetrated their thick skulls), even if I found the one about Einstein and Heimmler's Aryan demons more entertaining. The one from this volume that stuck the most was the one where Dracula is a writer and many of our most famous authors are actually his pen names. Also, vampire lore is a bunch of lies fabricated by him and spread through his writings, and he's really not harmed by garlic, is only mildly annoyed by sunlight, and crosses need to be solid gold to affect him. A fat nerd manages to breaks through his security and wants to be his apprentice... and then we learn this was all building up to a fucking Twilight joke.
Oh, and you may have noticed that one of the featured authors is Piers Anthony. Yeah, the Xanth guy? Unsurprisingly, his story is about a perverted genie going to a mall and making women's clothes disappear.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Shotaro Ishinomori)
Month of the disappointing adaptations, no?
I loved the Super Mario World comic, but this just left me wishing I was playing the game. See, while the Super Mario World comic took the game's characters and environments and used them to write its own story, the Link to the Past comic is a heavily cut down retelling of the game, cramming thirteen dungeons into twelve months with the signficantly longer Dark World only getting half the book. Despite skipping Skull Woods and Blind's Lair, it still feels rushed. And at least Friendly Floyd felt like a Mario character, while this just slaps a centurion outfit onto Jet Link (Oh, I see, Roam = Roman) and shoehorns him in.
Remember that part of Wind Waker after you place the three orbs, and this enormous tower emerges from the sea and you're thinking "aw shit, I have to conquer that?" But after clearing the first two floors you're warped to the top of the tower? This is that in comic form. Link will be presented with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, only for it to be resolved within a page, usually when another character shows up out of nowhere and saves his ass. Probably the silliest example is when Link enters Turtle Rock and instead of a sprawling maze concluded by a three-headed stone turtle, it's a single lava-filled room with, well, the dragon in the image above. Then Roam shows up, pops a single arrow into the middle head, and it explodes. Then it's off to confront Ganon in his fortress, a moon-like object covered in towers floating in the sky, but luckily Link bypasses all that when Zelda warps him right into Ganon's room.
Going back to Ishinomori as the artist, I think he's a talented artist that can draw badass dragons, swamps, bug monsters, and ice fortresses, but I don't like his humans and Link looks particularly doofy. There's just something offputting about seeing these richly drawn environments being traversed by an animated lawn gnome.
The Legend of Dragoon (PSX)
Oh, I am not going to make friends with many people's childhoods with this one. This is going to be a long and angry one, folks.
Legend of Dragoon is a relic from a time when developers and players cared more about how long a game was than how much of it was actually necessary. It often gets called a Final Fantasy VII clone and I can totally see why: the similar interface, Dragoon Spirits instead of Materia, somebody with a misguided ambition to find paradise, and even a botched attempt to stop some celestial object from falling to the earth. Now, it's not like I think Final Fantasy VII is sacred and any game that tries to be like it is commiting sacrelige (although apeing a game I don't think very highly of is its own problem). It's what they took away from Final Fantasy VII that's the problem.
The back of the case brags about how the game took three years and 100 people to make which might sound impressive, but that means keeping 100 people on the same page for three years, especially when developer turnover means there's a very good chance the game didn't have all the same 100 people working on it all three years. Although it would go a ways towards explaining why the game is such a damn mess.
Let's talk about the story first; it's garbage. Plot points and characters are pulled out of the game's ass and dropped at random. There's an early boss fight that starts with a character suddenly saying "OMG, this is the bastard who killed my father!" A little while later you encounter a boss and another character says "OMG, this is the bastard who killed MY father!" Later on still, you encounter a boss and yet another character comes out and says "OMG, this is the bastard who... actually, he only snuck a secret martial arts technique out of my village, no dead relatives here!" Because lots of plot twists that ultimately don't matter is the same as depth, right?
Early in the game, you lose a character and his abilities are transferred to somebody else. However, it's made clear why the first character could no longer fight and what the two characters' relationship was, hence why that particular character inherits the abilities. Much later on, another character has their abilities passed on to somebody else, but (a) your party just walked into the same room as the new character and suddenly the old character "just can't fight anymore", and (b) the recipient was a character that had just been introduced and I'm not sure even had two lines yet.
For the first three discs, the two main antagonists are a mysterious man named Lloyd (whose mystery is given away in the manual, and even then you'd have to be pretty dense to not figure it out long before the characters do) and a "Black Monster" that destroyed Dart's village. But at the very end of the third disc, both are stuffed in a box and mailed to Abu Dhabi so that a new villain can be introduced with a Scooby Doo unmasking, who is then revealed to really be somebody else just before the final boss. The story for the first three discs is just faffing around until the developers decide to make the shit hit the fan for the last disc. And really, game, how many times did we need to be reminded that Dart's village was destroyed by the Black Monster?
And they had 100 people working on the game, but couldn't get a single native English speaker to proofread the script? Move over, Legend of Heroes: Tear of Vermillion because we've got a new king of "Worst Translation I've Seen That Wasn't Done by a Computer for a Larf"-ville. There's a giant character that talks in stilted "primitive" English, and he's actually more intelligible than the "proper" English speakers.
Moving on to the game. I actually started playing back in July, lost interest shortly after that pain in the ass area with the warped gravity (where the boss bugged out and only attacked once in the whole fight), came back in December, and almost gave up for good shortly after when I got to the fight with the fake princess. The game's idea of making her challenging is to have her attack three or four times nearly every time one of your characters does anything, and a guard prevents you from leaving the area to restock healing items.
I also went through the entire second half of the game game wondering when the hell I was going to get Kongol's Dragoon stone; I didn't think the developers could be so stupendously incompetent that they'd make such a plot important item missable. But after clearing the first part of the final dungeon and still not receiving it, I went online and found there's two ways to receive it; get it from a boss about 2/3 of the way through the final dungeon (leaving Kongol's skills far, FAR behind everyone else), or unceremoniously purchase it from a random vendor. Actually, this along with him being missing from many cutscenes lead me to believe he was added late into the game's development.
It'd also be nice to find an RPG besides Undertale that figures out how to make random battles interactive without bringing them to a crawl. Legend of Dragoon uses a system sort of like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario (though it might predate Paper Mario?) where you tap a button in time with a moving square to pull off combos on an enemy, X for for blue squares, and Circle for red squares. And when you get a red square, you're almost guaranteed to fail the rest of the combo because the effect of you winning or losing the counterattack throws off your rhythm. In later combos, the game will start pulling this horseshit where a square starts out blue, then just as it's time to press the X button, it'll switch to red, which is basically the game saying "Fuck you." Also, the disorienting way the camera swings around in battle, and battles fought on blue or bright backgrounds often make the square hard to see. And you can't watch the characters like you can when Mario stomps an enemy in Super Mario RPG because their animations are so glitzy I couldn't tell when they were going to stop flailing their weapon around and actually hit the enemy.
Which brings me to what pushed Legend of Dragoon from just being lackluster to torturous, something I'm going to call "animation bloat". I like to imagine somebody at Sony Entertainment noticed people shitting themselves over Knights of the Round, then thought "Let's make a game where ALL the spells that long to cast!" The game took me about 50 hours to complete (including Game Over time from three bosses), and if I had to guess I'd say that maybe 20 of those hours were spent actually playing the game, and 30 were spent on loading times and watching the same drawn out attack and spell animations over and over.
Bosses take fucking forever to kill, and I don't know if they have unusually high amounts of HP, or if it's just the attack and spell effects are so drawn out and bloated that, to use WoW terminology, your DPS is shit. On the fourth disc, there's an optional quest to fight four of the original Dragoons, and each one takes at least 25 minutes to kill with something like 20 of those minutes being spent watching the same fucking spell animations over and over (can we also talk about the fight with the Water Dragoon sexualizing a fifteen-year-old? I know this game is Japanese, but how hard could it be for the English localizers to go into the script and NOT explicitly put her at that age?)
Having your final boss take over an hour to kill might have been seen as "epic" back in 2000, but nowadays it's just exhausting. Especially when you get to his final form and he pulls the bullshittiest stunt an RPG final boss can do and casts a spell to confuse the entire party, leaving you to sit there with your mouth agape while your guys tear each other apart.
And to put the cherry on top, the music is mostly percussion and guitar riffs with no memorable melodies.
On the plus side, the ending was the fucking funniest thing I saw in a game this year. I laughed so hard at the godawful CGI, voice acting, and writing (as well as a stupendously inappropriate squealing guitar at one point) that I choked on my own spit and scared the hell out of the cat.
There's a scene in the Simpsons episode "Lisa the Simpson" where Grampa flips through a packet of Bart's old homework, and the marks from the teacher turn from a smiley face to a bland face to an angry face to a poison symbol. That scene perfectly illustrates my experience with Legend of Dragoon.